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Should I Try a Stool Hardener Over the Counter to Resolve My Diarrhea? FAQs

Should I Try a Stool Hardener Over the Counter to Resolve My Diarrhea? FAQs

If you are experiencing diarrhea, an over-the-counter stool hardener may offer you the relief that you need. These medications are widely available, and safe for most people without preexisting conditions. 

However, that does not mean that these medications are safe (or effective) for everyone. You should always talk to a doctor about pursuing treatment. Your symptoms may be a result of many different issues. You can use the FAQs below to decide if a stool hardener over the counter is more or less likely to give you the relief you need. 

  • Do you know what’s causing your diarrhea?
  • Do you have a viral or bacterial infection?
  • Do you have a history of any family illnesses that have diarrhea as a symptom?
  • Will generic over-the-counter medications work
  • Can you safely take loperamide?
  • Can you safely take bismuth subsalicylate?

Do you know what’s causing your diarrhea?

Before you take an over-the-counter medication, you should consider the source of your diarrhea symptoms. Diarrhea is a common symptom and may point to many different issues that need different treatment approaches. 

OTC medications may help with mild cases such as traveler’s diarrhea. However, they are not effective when the underlying cause of the symptoms is a serious illness or disorder.

You should consider speaking to a doctor if your diarrhea symptoms last more than a couple of days. This is usually a sign that your body is fighting off something more dangerous than just a bad meal. If you are dealing with a serious problem, over-the-counter medications will not help. They may have unintended interactions with your health problems.

Do you have a viral or bacterial infection?

Image by Marco Verch of Flickr under Creative Commons

If you have a serious viral or bacterial infection, you should consult with a medical professional before you use over-the-counter medications as a treatment. 

Antibiotics or antivirals may be the best treatment option, and you may not be able to take them with OTC drugs. You may be able to spot infections by the following additional symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Cold sweats
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Congestion
  • Cough

Diarrhea is a symptom of many different kinds of infection. The symptoms may last up to two weeks depending on how effectively the infection is treated. 

Do you have a family history of any illnesses that have diarrhea as a symptom?

If your diarrhea is the result of an illness, over-the-counter medications may not be effective at treating it. You will need to seek prescriptions or therapies that will help you manage the underlying condition.

You can spontaneously develop many different illnesses that have diarrhea as a symptom. These conditions may be easy to identify if you have a family history with certain illnesses. For example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) tends to run in families. 

Other diarrhea-causing illnesses include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Some cancers around the digestive system
  • Diabetes
  • Crohn’s disease

Seek a diagnosis as soon as possible to start treating the disease instead of just the symptom of diarrhea.

Will generic over-the-counter medications work?

Yes, generic over-the-counter medications are widely used to treat diarrhea. Generic medications typically have the same active ingredients as brand-name medications, in the same concentrations.

Two active ingredients, in particular, are known to treat diarrhea. The first is Loperamide (sold under the brand name Imodium) and the other is bismuth subsalicylate (sold under the brand name Pepto Bismal).

The one you take may come down to a matter of preference. However, there are some reasons to consider one over the other. You should always ask yourself if you can safely take either of these medications. 

Can you safely take loperamide?

Loperamide is an effective over-the-counter treatment for diarrhea. It works by slowing down the activity of the muscles in the gut. This makes your stools spend more time working through the digestive system. This in turn allows the intestines to absorb more water before the stool is finally evacuated.  

Loperamide is considered to be safe for most people to take. However, there are some exceptions that you need to consider before using this medication:

  • You should not take Loperamide if you have blood in your stool
  • You should not take Loperamide if you have ulcerative colitis
  • Stop using Loperamide and speak to a doctor if you develop a high fever
  • You should be careful about prolonged usage. Excessive loperamide can cause heart problems or death

 Can you safely take bismuth subsalicylate?

Bismuth subsalicylate is the second major diarrhea treatment that can be found over-the-counter. It works in roughly the same way as Loperamide. Like that drug, this one slows down the activity of the gut and allows additional absorption of water. 

Beyond that, bismuth subsalicylate may have a much different effect on the body. Certain people should avoid this medication.  

  • You should not take bismuth subsalicylate if you have blood clotting conditions
  • You should not take bismuth subsalicylate if you are younger than 18 years old
  • You should not take bismuth subsalicylate if you have the medical condition gout
  • You should not take bismuth subsalicylate if you have kidney problems
  • You should not take bismuth subsalicylate if you have diabetes

Is it time to try stool hardeners over the counter?

Over-the-counter stool hardeners may be the treatment you need to relieve symptoms of diarrhea. Now, you know more about the considerations that go into OTC medications. You know that these medications may only be effective for treating diarrhea with certain causes.

You also know to watch out for evidence that your symptoms may be related to underlying conditions. After you’ve confirmed the source of your symptoms, consider whether it’s safe for you to take the most widely available drugs.

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